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I've heard the term "flat earthers" mentioned in regards to Christians. Does the Bible suggest that the earth is flat or that the earth is round?

What scripture is there that suggest a round earth or flat earth and what are the misconceptions regarding the scripture?

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In addition to Isaiah 40:22, which Ashansky pointed out, there's also Job 26: 7, which states that the earth is hung "upon nothing". This is quite a difference from, for example, the Greek idea of Earth supported upon Atlas's shoulders, or the Hindu notion of Earth resting upon the back of an elephant which stands on the back of a turtle which swims in a vast ocean.

Also, Luke 17:31-36 speaks of people being taken away into heaven at (or before, but that's a matter for a different question) the time of the Second Coming, and states that some will be taken at night, and some in the daytime, even though it's supposed to happen all at once. That's not possible on a flat earth model.

The idea of a flat earth is not found in the Bible or in ancient Christian thought. The notion that people thought it was was invented almost simultaneously, but apparently independently, by two 19th-century authors. One came up with the idea for dramatic purposes; the other did so quite maliciously for the specific purpose of slandering and discrediting Christianity:

No one before the 1830s believed that medieval people thought that the earth was flat.

The idea was established, almost contemporaneously, by a Frenchman and an American, between whom I have not been able to establish a connection, though they were both in Paris at the same time. One was Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848), an academic of strong antireligious prejudices who had studied both geography and patristics and who cleverly drew upon both to misrepresent the church fathers and their medieval successors as believing in a flat earth, in his On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers (1834). The American was no other than our beloved storyteller Washington Irving (1783-1859), who loved to write historical fiction under the guise of history. His misrepresentations of the history of early New York City and of the life of Washington were topped by his history of Christopher Columbus (1828). It was he who invented the indelible picture of the young Columbus, a "simple mariner," appearing before a dark crowd of benighted inquisitors and hooded theologians at a council of Salamanca, all of whom believed, according to Irving, that the earth was flat like a plate. Well, yes, there was a meeting at Salamanca in 1491, but Irving's version of it, to quote a distinguished modern historian of Columbus, was "pure moonshine. Washington Irving, scenting his opportunity for a picturesque and moving scene," created a fictitious account of this "nonexistent university council" and "let his imagination go completely...the whole story is misleading and mischievous nonsense."

-- Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Myth of the Flat Earth

Also, from an extrabliblical source, it seems that Clement, bishop of Rome from the early Christian period, had correct knowledge of the earth. He spoke of antichthones (Greek, literally "people on the other side of the world") and stated that:

The ocean is impassable to men; and those are worlds which are on the other side of it, which are governed by these same arrangements of the ruling God.

-- cited here with the rather indecipherable "Clemens Rom., Ep. i., ad Cor., c. 20."

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The 2nd quote is from Chapter XX of the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians –  Firstrock Sep 5 '11 at 13:15
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People have known the earth was round for a very long time now. The ancient Greeks noticed this because of the shape of the shadow during lunar eclipses. And there are other observations they made, such as being able to see the mast of a ship before the ship itself, etc... it's not a new idea by any means. –  Reid Sep 5 '11 at 14:42
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The passages that most suggest a flat earth are those that describe something geometrically impossible if interpreted literally for a spherical earth.

Daniel 4:10-11 (ESV)

10 The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. 11 The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth.

Although the tree that is everywhere-visible due to height is repeated in Daniel 4:20 (by Daniel), it's a dream, so could be metaphorical, and anyway is just the opinion of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, who are probably not authorities on celestial geometry and are really talking about Nebuchadnezzar's impending fall due to unrighteousness.

Matthew 4:8 (ESV)

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

This certainly implies that the reason to go to a very high mountain is that you can see all the kingdoms of the world from a sufficiently tall mountain, but it doesn't flat-out say so. Perhaps it's just to gain an impressive if not worldwide perspective.

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Administrivia: this doesn't answer the question and would be more appropriate in a comment. –  Roy Tinker Sep 5 '11 at 5:47
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@Roy that is ridiculous; it presents two passages that would not be possible in a round Earth. It is entirely an answer. –  Marc Gravell Sep 5 '11 at 5:52
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@Roy Tinker - I think you mis-applied your comment to my post. My answer specifically addresses scriptural support for a flat earth. How is this not answering the question? I have not answered the whole question because "misconceptions regarding the scripture" is too broad to be answered, and aside from a statement "the earth is (approximately) spherical" which does not appear in the Bible, the passages most directly at odds with our current understanding are of greatest interest. (Slightly edited one value judgment in my answer; that didn't belong there.) –  Rex Kerr Sep 5 '11 at 5:54
    
@Marc - I reread Rex's answer. You're right that it does present good evidence that speaks to the question. But it sounds like no conclusion is being presented in the answer... is that OK? –  Roy Tinker Sep 5 '11 at 5:55
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@Roy Tinker - I agree that I presented no conclusion about whether the Bible suggests that the Earth is flat or round. It's hard to argue either way when, as the answers here show, there are passages that are suggestive of each. Perhaps we can conclude that reading the Bible is not the simplest way, these days, to learn about the shape of the Earth? –  Rex Kerr Sep 5 '11 at 6:12
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There's a verse in Isaiah that suggests that the earth is round.

Isaiah 40:22

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

The debate about whether this proves the bible taught the earth is round, seems to hinge on the hebrew word here used for circle "חוּג" (chug), the opposition argues that the Hebrew means a specific geometrical shape. While the pro side argues that the Hebrews at the time didn't have a proper word for sphere.

Ultimately I believe God revealed things to his people within the context of what they were able to understand and at that time it was a simple circle.

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Might need to did into the underlying word for "circle". That English word could denote a flat or spherical object. –  Lawrence Dol Sep 5 '11 at 3:46
    
yeah what i'm reading says the hebrew can mean sphere but I'm trying to find a good source that says that. –  Andrew Sep 5 '11 at 3:48
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Re your last line; that would be a devastating blow to people who believe in the literal Word, surely? –  Marc Gravell Sep 5 '11 at 6:04
    
@Marc: No not devastating but it does keep things lively since God giving specific revelation is done is the tongues of men. For example Hezekiel is utterly baffled add to how to describe what he saw in a vision and so we have "wheel within a wheel". –  Caleb Sep 5 '11 at 9:38
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"flat earthers" is a derogatory term used by people who believe that being a Christian automatically means you reject settled science. A person who uses the term is attempting to mock Christians, saying the believing other than they do is no different than still believing the Earth is flat.

Of course they forget that science can and does frequently reverse itself, even on some of the "big" and seemingly settled questions. That is what makes it "science".

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Are you stating that no people (at least claim to) believe that the earth is flat? There has been a sparse but enduring tradition: Samuel Birley Rowbotham, Samuel Shenton, and Charles K. Johnson, to name a few who have been vocal on the matter. –  Rex Kerr Sep 5 '11 at 5:36
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The claim that the Bible depicts a flat earth is out of misinformation spread against the Bible. Some of the Scriptural references are used with an aim of justifying this hollow claim. Some of the verses such as:

Revelation 7:1 7 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.

However, this passage makes reference to the cardinal directions as seen on a compass – i.e. north, south, east and west. Terminology to a similar effect is used today when we speak of the sun rising and setting each day, even though we know that it is, in fact, the earth which orbits around the sun.

Another passage often referred to is:

Psalm 75:3, 7 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.

Here it speaks of God holding the pillars firm. However, the psalms are written in the poetry genre. Rather than referring to literal pillars, this is representative of God’s guaranteeing the earth’s stability. Even when the moral order of the world seems to have crumbled, God will not fully withdraw His sustaining power.

In contrast to the supposed “flat earth” verses, there are numerous Scriptures that clearly indicate otherwise. The earth is described in:

Job 26:7 7 He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing.

Here it depicted as being suspended over empty space, implying a spherical figure. This notion is further entertained in:

Isaiah 40:21-22, Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are blike grasshoppers; stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;

This refers to “the circle of the earth.” This is further supported by:

Proverbs 8:27 (NKJV), 27 When He prepared the heavens, I was there, When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,

Here it speaks of God drawing a circle on the face of the deep. From a “bird’s-eye view” of the ocean, the horizon is seen as a circle. Such an observation indicates that where light terminates, darkness begins, describing the reality of day and night on a spherical earth.

The round-earth idea is further supported by Jesus in:

Luke 17:31,34: “In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back...I tell you, in that night there will be two people in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left.”

This would seem to indicate the phenomenon of day on one side of the globe while darkness abides on the other.

In conclusion, the curvature of the earth is certainly a biblical concept, and there is little or no basis for the charge that the Bible teaches a flat earth. The Scriptures that seem to present a flat earth can all easily be explained when correctly interpreted and understood.

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